This is the last day of the regular legislative session and we still don’t have a balanced budget. We do however have a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage heading to the ballot in 2012. A special session is inevitable although its timing is uncertain.
After sitting in conference committees for over a month, the reconciled House and Senate budget bills have been voted on in both chambers and are on the Governor’s desk for certain veto. The budget bills continue to target the metro cities for deep cuts, contain questionable policies that the Governor asked be considered in other bills, include serious job cuts, and will lead to increased property taxes.
In an earlier newsletter, I outlined many of these bills when they emerged in their original House form. The previous newsletter talked about the fact that the GOP budget bills were made up of unsubstantiated claims of savings that did not match up with fiscal notes. Now that the GOP is using the proper budgeting process the cuts to services are getting deeper.
The Health and Human Services budget bill cuts Medicaid eligibility for adults without children. Early estimates of this proposal indicate that about 140,000 Minnesotans would lose health care. Loss of coverage for this many people will result in more “uncompensated” or charity care and an increase in insurance premiums for those with insurance. It will also lead to increased property taxes for uncompensated care at Hennepin County Medical Center.
Additionally the bill makes $150 million in cuts to the disabled, and cuts $14 million from early childhood care assistance rates. Countless studies have shown that quality early childhood education is one of the best investments a state can make in its future. Finally, the bill eliminates family planning grants and prohibits any organization that makes referrals for abortion services eligible for state grants.
Unfortunately the GOP continues to make a concerted effort to attack the central cities of Minneapolis, St. Paul, and Duluth. The omnibus tax bill completely phases out local government aid to the core cities by 2014. The cut this year alone would be $80 million, nearly twice the size of the entire budget for the Minneapolis Fire Department. Additionally the bill includes a $186 million cut to the renters’ credit, reducing property tax refunds for 308,000 Minnesotans, including 85,000 who are elderly and disabled.
The transportation budget bill looks to cut $109 million from the Metropolitan Council, which manages the public transit system throughout the metro area. Met Council Chairwoman Susan Haigh has said that these cuts could result in fare increases and could even end weekend service.
The K-12 education bill still eliminates integration aid to Minneapolis, St. Paul and Duluth, and contains a private school voucher program and other controversial positions. These provisions reverse a 30 year policy of funding education based on student needs and make our complex education funding system even more complex, less transparent and less accountable.
Fundamentally, this needs to be a conversation about what we expect government to deliver and what we are willing to pay for it. Do we want to throw 140,000 people off health care, raise property taxes for businesses and middle-class families, and attack Minneapolis, St. Paul and Duluth or ask the wealthiest Minnesotans to pay a small amount more in taxes? In true Minnesota fashion, Governor Dayton has proposed a reasonable compromise, proposing to solve half the deficit through cuts, half through new revenue. The GOP has remained unwilling to compromise. That is the art and science of governing: remembering that at the end of the day people depend on you, you claim your victories, accept your loses, and prepare to fight again. I’m deeply disappointed that we will again require a special session in order to accomplish what we should be able to do on time.
The one clear outcome of this legislative session is the passage of the proposed constitutional amendment defining marriage as solely between a man and a woman. The debate Saturday night was filled with powerful and heartfelt speeches by opponents to the proposal. Throughout the debate opponents could be heard chanting and signing outside the chamber doors, adding to the drama of the debate. I spoke and voted against the amendment. I focused my remarks first on my consistent core belief that gay and lesbian families have the same needs for financial stability, access to health care, respect for their family integrity and values, inheritance rights and all the other dimensions of civil law and civil rights as straight families. Secondly I argued what I have said in this newsletter earlier this year that constitutional amendments stifle debate as they eliminate the ability of both the citizens and the legislature to continue to engage on issues and come to different conclusions over time. I have real fears for the impact of this debate on the state and particularly GLBT families over the next 18 months.
During this important legislative session, I encourage you to offer your insight, feedback, questions and concerns. My office door in St. Paul is always open, or you can reach me by phone at 651-296-0173 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for the honor of serving you in state government.